Leda slowly scans the dining area and her keen eye notices someone she somehow failed to greet when entering. A small boy is sitting with his mother munching on some fries. Leda goes over to their table and gives the boy a balloon, a sample of that million-dollar burger smile of hers, and finally a hearty handshake.
For Leda Madurai is a McGreeter, part of McDonalds pilot program that is getting its premier in this suburban Houston, Texas outlet.
"Being from Calcutta, I am used to being among lots and lots of people, and this gives me an opportunity to not only interact with the customers but to help them live healthier lives, " she told this reporter, followed by a gentle but firm handshake.
Healthier lives? Yes, according to McDonalds spokesman Herb Daniels, who came to Texas to help launch the McGreeters program. "McDonalds Labs has been working for years to find a solution to the increasingly virulent foodborne disease problem in the fast food industry. And, do you know what that answer is?" He extended his hand and said, "Put it there partner."
Here's the McDeal as they say. Scientists have known for years that one of the ways to increase resistance to infection in a human is to receive an immune serum that contains protective antibodies from another source. Smallpox, for example. A minute amount of that living weakened organism can be injected, inoculated, or taken by mouth. It's just enough to cause antibody production within the immune system, but without making the individual ill.
Enter Dr. Marvin Rubin of the McDonalds Labs. For the last ten years he has been diligently working on foodborne immunization at their suburban Chicago research facility. Last Fall, a serum was found. Amazingly, Dr. Rubin found that by combining the proper amounts of salmonella bacterium with the bacterial pathogen E.coli 0157H7, and then simply adding them to water in a conventional spray bottle, and finally spreading a fine mist on the hand, it was enough to boost the immune system but not enough to create illness.
Back in Texas, Leda carries the spray bottle on a fastener at the back of her apron. After four to six handshakes with customers, she reaches for the serum bottle and gives her right hand three quick sprays, and she's once again back in business.
"When I was a small girl in India," Leda says, "I dreamed of going to nursing school. But, unfortunately, all my family's money went towards my late sister's wedding dowry. Now I feel like I'm finally doing nursing, as I give each person a vaccination handshake!"
With that, she was off to greet a busload of elderly residents from a nearby nursing home.